December arrived with an arctic blast. And I don’t mean a nippy puff. Hard cold old poured into our area for the first time this fall, blocking up all the ponds and rivulets with thick ice and sending strong, frigid winds booming along the ridges and down into the hollows. In the forest, trees clacked together like bighorn sheep in rut, and snow fell alongside hundreds of branches, limbs, and twigs set loose by the winds.
How could I resist heading into the forest, both dogs at my side and Darter the cat chasing along behind? The thought occurred to me that I could be seriously clonked by a falling branch, or smooshed by a crashing tree, but for some odd reason my instant response was, “How thrilling would THAT be?!”
I started piling on clothes: a vest, boots, a scarf and hat, a handkerchief because my nose always runs when it’s cold out, a jacket, and gloves. Around my feet, the dogs spun in giddy circles, mouthing out little yap-moans of ecstasy.
When I opened the back door, the dogs and Darter tumbled out and fairly rolled down into the forest. The wind seemed to blow into their chests and inflate them in some joyous way, and their delight spilled over. They bounced, bounded, twirled, barked, raced in circles, and came running back to pant in my face and tell me all about it.
The leaves coating the hollow walls were slick and shiny, and my feet slid in many places. Fortunately, the forest is thick with saplings, which seemed to have been specially placed just for me to grab. The dogs and cat knew no such challenges. How flawlessly and effortlessly they kept their footing in treacherous terrain, and how I wished I could do as well with treacherous terrain in my own life.
We made our way down limestone cliffs and across rock-tumbled, frozen streams to Button’s cabin two hollows away from our house. (See blog post about Button, the mouse). In the clearing, the old place stood, its silvered logs streaked with ice and dirt. The corroding tin roof was thatched with twigs and branches, donated by the surrounding beeches and maples. Overhead, I watched the forest canopy break dance wildly.
I kept my face and nose covered with a thick scarf and breathed the fresh, tumbling air into my lungs, mindful of my asthma that made the scarf barrier so necessary.
I wandered then with no destination, the wind helping to blow away the constant chatter in my monkey brain. How blessed the inner moments of silence were, and the beautifully mindless ambling the silence aroused within me.
For a long time, I roamed like the dogs and Darter roamed: directionless, engaged, open hearted, curious. Hannah stuck her nose into salamander holes and molehills, while Mazel followed the trails of ice across the hollow floor. Darter leaped from fallen tree to fallen tree, agile as a…well…as a cat.
I roamed in what I can best describe as a distinct foggy state of awareness. That is, I was aware of the weather all around me and the chance of danger it presented. I was aware of the constant, forceful beckoning of the wind and the dancing of the trees. I was aware of the ice beneath me, reaching out to pull the forest out from under my feet. And yet, I was aware all these things in a foggy, surreal kind of way. At certain times, I felt as though I had lost an awareness of specific things, but had become aware of the full, intermingled body of the woods and myself as just one surging thing. I stepped between a sense of dreaminess and caution, and I just wanted to giggle and sing, so for the next half hour, I believe I did just that.
I returned home exhilarated and tired, with red, wind-painted cheeks and a tingling in my hands. The animals hurried at once to their respective beds and were immediately drawn into a deep, meditative state, which we mostly call sleep, but which I believe is more than that.
I’ve walked in other storms in my life, real and metaphorical. Sometimes, I’ve been terrified to numbness on such journeys, and it seems as though every falling tree is aiming directly for my head. This walk was different, and I don’t really know why. This time, the storm carried me away in a good way. This time, my exhilaration overrode my fear of falling trees and icy leaves. This time, something else intervened that made the storm danger a source of joy and power for me.
As I slipped into my own meditative reverie by the fire, with a fuzzy blanket around my stomach and a mug of hot, sweet coffee in my hands, I thought about the dogs and Darter and how they had been in the forest that day. It seemed as though that level of storm had attracted them, enlivened them, and energized them. There were also levels of storms that would send them to their beds with absolutely no inclination to stick so much as a toe outside.
For myself, I believe that perhaps I harbor a tendency to view all storms as the perfect deadly storm, and can get myself dismembered in my own heart long before any tree would even think to clonk me. I turned to Hannah and Mazel zoned out on their beds, and Darter perched behind my head on the back of the sofa. Teach me, I asked. Teach me to become more sensitive to the storms, and be able to distinguish the deadly ones from the ones that come to invigorate me.